Since Madonna Called
Eric Jao was more than satisfied with how his musical career was going. The 33-year-old classically trained pianist from Washington, D.C., shifted his focus 13 years ago and evolved into award-winning turntable wizard DJ Enferno – then combined his two personas with his Live Remix Project, which blurs the line between DJ and musician. Work was steady, artistically rewarding and lucrative.
Then an astonishing thing happened: Madonna came calling. This year, the pop-music chameleon chose the innovative Enferno to join her Sticky & Sweet Tour, which stops Wednesday at Dolphin Stadium in Miami. Many of the world’s biggest acts, including U2, have used DJs to energize their shows. But with Enferno, Madonna pushed the concept further.
”Most people think of a DJ as someone who plays music to warm up the crowd,” says Enferno, ‘I am not the `crowd-warmer-upper.’ I am actually a band member. Imagine that, right?”
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Enferno stands out by blending technology and technical skill. For his Live Remix Project – which he demonstrated in 2006 during Winter Music Conference at the Remix Hotel in Miami Beach – he uses two turntables, two laptops, a drum machine, a keyboard, samplers and various sound-effects processors (reverb, flange, delay, echo) to create a one-man symphony.
”When you see a regular DJ go up there, they are spinning someone else’s song,” he says. ”And then they mix it into the next song and then maybe they wave their hands in the air, pump their fists and turn a knob or something. But with the Live Remix Project, I use the turntables as instruments and add whatever I want and build layer upon layer upon layer to create live music on the spot.” (Check out his work at liveremixproject.com.)
Madonna’s musical director saw one of his shows.
‘I was performing in Orlando, and Kevin Antunes happened to be there. He tracked me down, started the conversation, and presented my video to Madonna. Then I get a call from him shortly after that, saying, `Welcome aboard’ — no audition or anything.”
Enferno was shocked, mentally and physically.
”My body temperature changed,” he says about receiving the call. ‘I mean, when I thought about the possibility of getting the gig, I was already bouncing off the walls, in disbelief. But when I found out I actually got the gig, I felt my blood pressure drop. I even thought, `Am I sick or something?’ My body temperature dropped so much I had to put a hat on. And a scarf. And a sweat shirt.”
Enferno — who says his first slow-dance was to Madonna’s Crazy For You when he was 13 — recalls being seriously star-struck upon being introduced to the singer.
”When I first met her, I was so nervous,” he says. ‘I was kind of tripping on my words, but I could have sworn I was being cool. Like on my face, it was like, `Be cool, be cool, be cool,’ but on the inside it was like `Ehhrrrgh — I can’t believe I’m talking to her.’
‘And through the rehearsal process, I kept thinking, `Wow, she is real.’ And she is so good at what she does. Imagine being surrounded by the best of the best — dancers, keyboardists, drummers, whatever. Somehow, she’s able to take everybody in that group and make them better than they were before, myself included.”
The Sticky & Sweet Tour includes most of the tracks from Madonna’s latest album, Hard Candy, which ventures into hip-hop. But fans of classic Madonna will be pleased at the inclusion of standards including Borderline, Into the Groove, Vogue, La Isla Bonita, Music, Ray of Light and one of Enferno’s favorites, Like a Prayer (“I was really happy that it made it onto the tour”).
Enferno says the whole tour experience has surpassed his expectations, especially the level of creative input he got from Madonna and Antunes.
”I just kind of kept my mind open and went with the flow,” he says. “But if you look at what I’m doing onstage, I’m able to contribute in ways I didn’t think [Madonna] was going to want me to contribute — collaborating with Kevin Antunes and Madonna on some of the remixes for the show. I did not expect to have that type of responsibility.
“She stretched me beyond not only what I thought I could do, but also what I thought she would trust me with. It’s an amazing thing, getting up onstage and seeing 75,000 people jumping up and down to what I helped work on — I really couldn’t see that coming.”